Yankeemetrics: Two up, two down in Cleveland (Aug. 3-6)

(AP)
(AP)

Sorry, Sonny
Thursday’s series opener in Cleveland — a sloppy and frustrating 5-1 loss — was definitely not the ideal way to welcome Sonny Gray to the New York Yankees franchise.

Four batters into the game and the Yankees had already committed three errors behind Gray and the Yankees were quickly in a 2-0 hole. Whoops. It was the first time the Yankees committed three errors in any inning since October 2, 2010 against the Red Sox.

For Gray, this was a recurring nightmare that he thought had ended when he left Oakland, which leads the league in errors. Instead, he now has 13 unearned runs allowed on his ledger, tied with Derek Holland for the most in the majors through Thursday.

Gray pitched well as the Yankee gloves failed behind him, showing his toughness in pitching out of jams and limiting the damage on the scoreboard. He finished with two earned runs allowed on four hits in six innings, and for that solid effort, gets our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series:

Gray is the first pitcher in nearly 60 years to post those numbers or better (at least 6 innings, 2 earned runs or fewer, 4 hits or fewer) in his debut with the Yankees — and lose. The last guy to be this unlucky was Duke Maas in 1958. Maas (no relation to Kevin, I think) was traded by the A’s to the Yankees in mid-June, and then made his pinstriped debut as the starter in a 1-0 loss to the Tigers on June 21.

The Yankees bats also provided little offensive support as they were dominated by Corey Kluber, who tossed an 11-strikeout, three-hit complete game while giving up one run. That was his fourth straight start with at least eight strikeouts and one earned run or fewer allowed against the Yankees, the longest such streak ever by any pitcher against the Yankees.

(AP)
(AP)

Bad News Bombers
It was deja vu all over again on Friday night for the Yankees, as the mistakes in the field piled up and their offense remained in a miserable slump, resulting in another disappointing loss.

The “star” of the defensive lowlights was Gary Sanchez, who had his 12th passed ball of the season, the most in the majors despite the fact that he missed nearly a month of games in April and early May. He also has 10 errors, the second-most among catchers through Friday.

While the Yankees could barely touch Kluber’s stuff on Thursday, they put plenty of runners on base against Trevor Bauer and the Indians bullpen, but repeatedly failed to cash in on those chances. For the 15th time this season, they outhit their opponent (11-8) but still lost; only the Blue Jays (16) and White Sox (21) had suffered more losses in games when out-hitting their opponents through Friday.

Jaime Garcia contributed to the miserable night with a mediocre outing. He coughed up six runs in 4⅔ innings and couldn’t find the strike zone (four walks, one wild pitch), earning himself this #NotFunFact:

He’s one of just seven players in the Live Ball Era (since 1920) to allow that many runs, not get out of the fifth inning and walk at least four batters in his Yankee debut. The most recent guy to do it was CC Sabathia on Opening Day 2009 … okay? And the others are Tim Redding (2005), Bob Wiesler (1951), Fred Sanford (1949) and Karl Drews (1946).

(AP)
(AP)

Chase “Hero” Headley
While the bats remained silent on Saturday, the defense was outstanding and the Yankees got a stellar effort from Jordan Montgomery to survive a 2-1 nail-biter in Cleveland.

It was perhaps one of the team’s most unlikely wins, given how dominant Danny Salazar and the rest of the Indians pitchers were against a feeble Yankee lineup. They struck out 15 times, were on base just nine times and scored only two runs. In the last 100 years, no Yankee team had ever won a game with that many strikeouts, fewer than 10 baserunners and no more than two runs scored … before Saturday.

Montgomery was terrific, allowing one run on three hits in five innings, and making a strong statement that he should be a key part of the rotation down the stretch (which is now a hot topic for us banter about after he was optioned to Triple-A following Sunday’s game). Although Monty rarely dazzles like a Severino or Pineda, he consistently puts up solid numbers and keeps the Yankees in the game while he’s on the mound.

Consider this stat: Saturday was the 16th time this season that he held the opponent to three runs or fewer. Only five other Yankee pitchers have done that within their first 21 career games: Dave Righetti, Doc Medich, Masahiro Tanaka, Mel Stottlemyre and Spec Shea.

Chase Headley rescued the Yankees from another depressing loss when he belted a tie-breaking home run in the top of the eighth inning. Headley, who has quietly been one of the best hitters in the league since the All-Star break deserves a #FunFact for his heroics on Saturday: He is just the third Yankee first baseman in the last four decades with a go-ahead homer in the eighth inning or later against the Indians – Jason Giambi (2005) and Don Mattingly (1984 and 1986) are the others.

(AP)
(AP)

#Sevy4MVP
Finally … the Bronx Bombers are back. The Yankees offense, which had been M.I.A. for the past week, exploded for eight runs on Sunday, more than they had scored in their previous five games combined. But it was the brilliant pitching of Luis Severino and a shutdown performance by the Yankee bullpen that truly shined in the 8-1 win.

It was the fourth game this year that the pitching staff allowed no more than three baserunners. The last time a Yankees team did that? 1929!

Sevy, the undisputed ace of the 2017 staff, cemented his status as a no-doubt Cy Young contender with another lights-out performance: two hits, one run, nine strikeouts over 6⅔ dominant innings. I think this is a good list to be on:

He also became the first Yankee pitcher in more than 20 years to beat the Indians in Cleveland while holding them to no more than two hits. The last guy to do it? David Cone in the 1996 opener … and we know how that season ended.

Severino’s effort would have been another wasted gem in a deflating loss if not for the team’s offensive explosion in the sixth and seventh innings. The five-run sixth was sparked by the most unlikely source, a bases-loaded triple off the bat of Jacoby Ellsbury. The struggling lefty entered the day hitting .163 with runners in scoring position, the sixth-lowest batting average among AL players (min. 50 PA).

The three-run seventh, on the other hand, was powered by a much more familiar name — Mr. Aaron Judge — who smoked a 94 mph fastball into the rightfield seats for his 35th homer of the season. And, of course, with that blast, Judge etched his name in the baseball record books once again: He is the only rookie outfielder in major-league history with at least 35 homers and 75 walks in a season.

Attitude Adjustment

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

If you’re reading this, chances are you know a little bit about me. For those of you who don’t, let me tell you that I’m a teacher (high school English) by trade. In my experience as a teacher, I’ve had to rely on one trait more than any: flexibility. It took me a long time to land a full time position, so I was ‘stuck’ doing long-term sub positions in southwestern Connecticut from April 2013 to February 2016. In that time, I taught grades 7, 9, 10, 11, and 12 in five different schools (one middle, four high) to different populations, from different courses/curricula, and in five different districts. To boot, most of the time, I was parachuting in after the start of the year and had to find my bearings on the fly. If not for flexibility, I’d’ve drowned. It might be time to exercise similar flexibility for the Yankees.

All year, I’ve been saying this is a ‘house money’ season for the Yankees. Given the roster, expectations weren’t high; a second wildcard spot seemed like the ceiling. Of course, early season hotness blew the doors right off of that. Despite some hiccuping in June, the Yankees went into the trade deadline like buyers and came away with a much improved Major League roster and, until recently, a first place position in the AL East. Now, they sit in the first wildcard seat, controlling their own destiny. And with many games left against the first place Red Sox, the division isn’t far out of reach.

According to the FanGraphs projection mode, the Yankees have a 69.4% chance of making the playoffs. Using the season-to-date mode, their playoff chances are even higher at 79.8%. If we flip over to the Baseball Prospectus playoff odds table, they’re at 81.8%. Coupling this with the Yankees’ deadline moves and the general feeling you get, it’d be hard to call missing the playoffs anything aside from a disappointment.

If we allow ourselves some dispassion for a minute, we can rationalize a missed playoff run. Aaron Judge will have had a killer season. Gary Sanchez, too. Clint Frazier came up and held his own. Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery will have taken huge steps forward. Didi Gregorius, too. With Sonny Gray aboard, the rotation for 2018 feels a lot better than it did even a month ago. Those are all great things for the Yankees in 2017 and 2018, regardless of this year’s record.

But dispassionate analysis is for the offseason. Right now, we’re in the heat of things, quite literally as August marches on. I want this team to make the playoffs. This team can and should make the playoffs. They’ve worked hard and gone through some rough patches and ‘deserve’ to have that rewarded with a real shot at number 28. The rotation and bullpen are stacked for a playoff run and they could do some real damage in a short series, especially if the bats heat back up to support them.

Another important factor of teaching is holding students to high expectations, or at the very least, adjusting those expectations as they perform. The Yankees have performed above and beyond their original expectations for 2017 and it’s time to ask more of them. Play today. Win today. That’s it.

Yankeemetrics: Bombers back in the Bronx (July 25-26)

(NJ Advance Media)
(NJ Advance Media)

Threes are wild
The Yankees had a successful homecoming on Tuesday as they kicked off a critical nine-game stretch in the Bronx with a win over the Reds.

Todd Frazier, wearing the traditional pinstripes for the first time, had perhaps the most unforgettable and unusual Yankee Stadium debut ever. In his first at-bat, he lined into a triple play — which would be quite memorable on its own — but turned into a statistical bonzai when Matt Holliday scored a run as Didi Gregorius got caught in a rundown for the third out.

Let’s run through some Triple Play #FunFacts:

  • Frazier was the 27th Yankee to hit into a triple play and the first since Russell Martin on September 27, 2011 against the Rays.
  • Before Tuesday, the last time the Yankees managed to win a game despite hitting into a triple play was May 29, 2000, when A’s infielder Randy Velarde turned the trick by himself, the only unassisted triple play ever recorded against the Yankees.
  • The play was scored 6-3-5-6 in the official boxscore, just the second triple play in MLB history with that sequence. The other was on June 6, 1970 by the Pirates against the Dodgers.
  • This was only the eighth time in the Live Ball era (since 1920) that a team scored on a triple play, and the first since the Mariners did it against the Twins on May 27, 2006; the Yankees had never scored on a triple play before Tuesday.
(Getty)
(Getty)

Didi redeemed himself after his triple play TOOTBLAN by driving in two runs, including his 15th home run of the season, five shy of the career-high he set last year. In the long and storied history of the franchise, Gregorius and Derek Jeter are the only shortstops with multiple 15-homer seasons.

Jordan Montgomery bounced back from his career-worst performance against the Twins last week to throw one of his best games as a major-leaguer. He took a no-hitter into the sixth inning and finished with this stellar pitching line: 6⅔ innings, one run, two hits, six strikeouts, one walk.

It was the second time Monty has pitched that deep into a game while giving up no more than two hits, as the 24-year-old became the youngest Yankee since Dave Righetti in 1981 with two such starts in a season.

Aroldis Chapman threw a scoreless ninth for his 12th save but he was hardly dominant, failing to record a strikeout for the sixth time this season. Four of those outings have come since the All-Star break, making this the first time in his career he’s had a two-week stretch with at least four zero-strikeout games.

(NY Post)
(NY Post)

Summer of Severino
In a throwback performance to the scoreboard-dominant days of April and May, the Yankees used their tried-and-true formula of brilliant starting pitching and pinstriped power to complete the mini-sweep of the Reds.

Luis Severino tossed another brilliant gem, going seven strong innings while allowing only two runs (both unearned) with nine strikeouts, and added to his ace-like resume:

  • It was the fourth time this season he’s pitched at least seven innings, gave up zero earned runs and struck out at least six batters; the only other pitchers in baseball that have done that four times this season are Max Scherzer, Chris Sale and James Paxton.
  • And it was the eighth time he’s lasted at least seven innings and allowed zero or one earned runs — Scherzer (8 starts) and Clayton Kershaw (11 starts) are the only guys in MLB that can match Severino in that stat.
  • He’s now had three starts in a row of at least seven innings and no more than one earned run, becoming just the third AL pitcher with a streak like that this season. The others: Corey Kluber and Dallas Keuchel.

Severino was in peak-dominant form, generating 20 swings-and-misses, the second-most in any start in his career. He climbed the ladder with his fastball to get four of the whiffs, but mostly buried his changeup (5) and slider (11) below the knees to make the Reds look like little-leaguers at the plate.

chart-10

Six of his nine strikeouts came with his filthy hard slider, giving him 85 on the season with that pitch, the fourth-most in baseball behind Chris Archer, Chris Sale and Max Scherzer.

Clint Frazier continued to shine on the big-league stage, as he delivered two key run-scoring hits with men on first and second in the third and fifth innings. He’s now 6-for-14 and has 10 RBIs with runners in scoring position, nearly matching the output of Jacoby Ellsbury (7-for-40, 12 RBI) in those situations for the entire season.

Didi Gregorius’ scorching-hot bat provided more fireworks on Wednesday. He went deep in the seventh inning, extending his homer streak to a career-best three games, and also etched his name alongside some Yankee legends. Didi is just the fifth shortstop in franchise history to hit a home run in back-to-back-to-back games: Derek Jeter (twice in 2012), Tom Tresh (1962), Gil McDougald (1957) and Tony Lazzeri (1927) are the others.

Game 87: The Start of the Second Half

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Welcome to the first day of the rest of the season. The All-Star break is over and we’re officially into the dog days of summer. The Yankees begin a four-game set with the Red Sox in Fenway Park tonight. Best case scenario is they leave this series with a half-game lead in the AL East. Worst case scenario is they leave 7.5 games back. A few too many things have been playing out to the worst case scenario for my liking lately.

The Yankees return from the All-Star break with a 45-41 record and a healthy +98 run differential, though they’re also 7-18 in their last 25 games, which is pretty darn awful. They haven’t won a series or back-to-back games or more than a month now. Hopefully everyone got their heads clear during the break and the second half serves as a fresh start. The Yankees could really use one. Here is the Red Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. C Gary Sanchez
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. DH Matt Holliday
  5. SS Didi Gregorius
  6. 1B Garrett Cooper
  7. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  8. 3B Chase Headley
  9. 2B Ronald Torreyes
    LHP Jordan Montgomery

It is cloudy, cool, and humid in Boston this evening. There is rain in the forecast, though not until later tonight. It shouldn’t be a problem unless the game goes to extra innings or something. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:10pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: In case you missed it earlier, Michael Pineda has a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament and Tommy John surgery has been recommended. He will get a second opinion first … Greg Bird (ankle) has been diagnosed with inflammation in his os trigonum, which is essentially an extra bone in his ankle. He received another cortisone shot, and if that doesn’t work, he may need surgery. The surgery comes with a 6-8 week rehab timetable, meaning he could be back for September … Starlin Castro (hamstring) will play another minor league rehab game tonight, and could return as soon as tomorrow depending how he feels.

Roster Moves: Welcome back, Matt Holliday and Jordan Montgomery. Holliday (illness) was activated off the disabled list and Montgomery was called back up. He didn’t even miss a start … Pineda was placed on the 10-day DL, allowing the Montgomery to return before his ten days in the minors were up … Rob Refsnyder was sent down to clear a roster spot for Holliday … welcome to the big leagues, Garrett Cooper. He’s been added to the roster following yesterday’s trade. He essentially takes Tyler Webb‘s 25-man and 40-man roster spots. This will be Cooper’s MLB debut. Next time the Yankees need a 40-man spot, they’ll slide Pineda to the 60-day DL.

2017 Midseason Review: The Starting Rotation

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Coming into Spring Training and the 2017 season, the starting rotation was pretty clearly the biggest concern for the Yankees. They had three veterans to anchor the rotation in Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, and CC Sabathia, yet all three came with some questions. Tanaka’s elbow hangs over every pitch he throws, Sabathia is nearing the end of his career, and Pineda is, well, Pineda.

The final two rotation spots were wide open going into camp. I always though Luis Severino had a leg up on a spot — I definitely wrote that a few times — and sure enough, he landed one in Spring Training. The Yankees had four candidates for the fifth starter’s spot (Adam Warren, Bryan Mitchell, Chad Green, Luis Cessa) and none of them won it. Jordan Montgomery snuck up and beat everyone out. Time to review the rotation.

Masahiro Tanaka: The Return of the Dingers

Last season Tanaka was, legitimately, one of the best starters in the league. He threw 199.2 innings with a 3.07 ERA (3.51 FIP) and strong strikeout (20.5%) and walk (4.5%) numbers. If you’re into WHIP, his 1.077 WHIP was fifth lowest among AL qualified starters. Tanaka was excellent.

This season Tanaka has been one of the worst starters in the league. There are 74 pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title and Tanaka ranks 69th in ERA (5.47) and 59th in FIP (5.03). He’s also 71st in home run rate (2.03 HR/9), which is his biggest problem. Tanaka has not been able to keep the ball in the park, especially of late. We’re talking 20 homers in his last 13 starts, and that includes a three-start stretch with no homers.

Why is Tanaka allowing so many more homers? Well, the answer is kinda obvious. He’s been leaving too many pitches out over the plate, and because he’s not overpowering (and because balls are flying out of every park this year), Tanaka has paid dearly for his mistakes. The question is why is he making more mistakes? Why have more fastballs run back over the plate, and why haven’t his splitter and slider had the same bite for long stretches of time?

The Yankees and Tanaka are still looking for that answer. It looked like he found something these last few weeks, in which he fired 31.2 innings with a 2.56 ERA (3.21 FIP) across five starts. Then Tanaka got bombed Sunday, in the final game before the All-Star break. One step forward, one step back. Hopefully that game was just a blip and Tanaka goes back to dominating again like he did in four of his previous five starts. That would be swell.

Whatever is wrong with Tanaka — injury, bad mechanics, lack of confidence, etc. — it is the single biggest problem for the Yankees right now. Even moreso than the bullpen, I think. I think Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman will figure it out and be fine. Given how long Tanaka has struggled — basically since Opening Day — his struggles concern me more. It’s hard to imagine the Yankees getting to the postseason if Tanaka continues pitching like this.

Luis Severino: The Emerging Ace

Aside from Aaron Judge, who is on a completely different level than everyone else right now, there has been no better short and long-term development for the Yankees this season than Severino. He came up and pitched very well in the second half of 2015, struggled mightily as a starter in 2016, and now he’s pitching at a near ace level (3.54 ERA and 3.16 FIP) through 17 starts and 106.2 innings. His ranks among the 74 qualified starters:

  • Strikeout Rate: 28.4% (8th)
  • Walk Rate: 6.2% (17th)
  • K/BB ratio: 4.59 (8th)
  • Ground Ball Rate: 52.4% (8th)

Severino and Lance McCullers Jr. are the only pitchers who rank in the top ten in both strikeout rate and ground ball rate, and they’re both deserving All-Stars. By Game Score, the 23-year-old Severino — he spent most of the season as the youngest player on the roster before the recent Tyler Wade and Clint Frazier call-ups — is responsible for four of the nine best and five of the eleven best games pitched by a Yankee this season.

What has been different about Severino this year? A few things. For starters, he seems to be much more aggressive with his fastball. I really believe the stint in the bullpen last season taught Severino that yes, he can throw his heater by big league hitters, and that gave him the confidence to do it this year. He’s no longer trying to paint the corner. He’s just letting it fly and letting the pitch’s natural life and velocity do the rest. (At 97.5 mph, Severino has the highest average fastball velocity among all starters in 2017. Carlos Martinez is second at 96.8 mph.)

Two, Severino seems to have much more confidence in his changeup. He’s not necessarily throwing it more often — he threw the pitch 14.1% of the time in 2015, 9.4% of the time in 2016, and 11.4% of the time in 2017 — but he is throwing better quality changeups and he’s throwing it with more conviction. Last year Severino admitted he lost confidence in his changeup and he basically stopped throwing it by the end of the season. The changeup is still his third pitch, but Severino uses it and he now seems to trust it again.

And three, he’s locating his slider so much better this year. So, so much better. Last season he left way too many sliders up in the zone and hitters either fouled it off or put it in play rather than swing and miss. This year’s he’s burying the pitch down and getting those whiffs. That impressive — and elite! — combination of strikeouts and ground balls is no accident. Severino pairs a big fastball with a better located wipeout slider and an improved changeup.

I’m curious to see how the Yankees will handle Severino’s workload in the second half because he is on pace to throw 201 innings, and I can’t imagine they’ll let a 23-year-old kid throw 200+ innings. Or maybe they will. Who knows? My guess is the Yankees find a way to give Severino some extra rest between starts down the stretch. We’ll see. Whatever they do, the most important thing is that Severino looks like a top of the rotation starter, and gosh do the Yankees need one of those going forward.

CC Sabathia: The Veteran Innings Guy

Aside from a rough four-start stretch spanning late-April and early-May in which he allowed 22 runs in 20.2 innings, Sabathia has been steady and reliable for the Yankees this year. He reinvented himself as a cutter pitcher last year and he’s stuck with that approach this year. Sabathia in 2016: 3.91 ERA and 4.28 FIP. Sabathia in 2017: 3.81 ERA and 4.19 FIP. Yup.

Sabathia did miss three weeks with a hamstring injury and his first start back was pretty bad (four runs in 2.2 innings), and, in hindsight, the Yankees shoulda sent him out on a minor league rehab assignment rather than have him make one start — one start on a 75-80 pitch count, no less — before the All-Star break. Either way, Sabathia’s days as an ace are over, but so are his days as a below-average pitcher, which he was from 2013-15. The big man made some adjustments last year, they worked, he’s stuck with them, and they’re still working. That’s pretty much all there is to say about him. Go CC.

Michael Pineda: Same Ol’ Michael Pineda

Groan. Do we really have to review Pineda’s season? He’s the same guy he was last year and the year before that. The difference this year is that Pineda started very well and had more than a few folks, myself included, thinking he had turned the corner. But no, it was just one of his patented “did he figure it out???” streaks at the start of the season. To the monthly splits:

  • April: 3.14 ERA (3.25 FIP)
  • May: 3.48 ERA (4.76 FIP)
  • June: 5.35 ERA (4.69 FIP)
  • July: 15.00 ERA (16.48 FIP) in one start

Overall, Pineda has a 4.39 ERA (4.64 FIP) in 96.1 innings this year. He had a 4.60 ERA (3.58 FIP) in 336.1 innings the last two seasons. The biggest difference this year is the home runs, though that’s not unique to Pineda. Almost every pitcher in the league is allowing more homers this year. Pineda had a 1.28 HR/9 from 2015-16. It’s 1.87 HR/9 this year, hence the massive spike in FIP.

One thing Pineda does deserve credit for is his improved performance with two strikes. Remember all those annoying two-strike hits last season? Check it out:

  • 2016 with two strikes: .187/.246/.286 (104 OPS+)
  • 2017 with two strikes: .162/.212/.242 (71 OPS+)

I know a .187/.246/.286 batting line against seems great, but in two-strike counts, it was actually 4% worse than average last year. That shouldn’t happen to a guy with Pineda’s slider. This year he’s been much better with two strikes. He’s gone from 4% below-average to 29% above-average. And, to be fair, last season is the outlier for Pineda. He has a career 42 OPS+ allowed in two-strike counts. Usually he excels in those spots. Last season he didn’t for whatever reason.

In all likelihood Pineda is entering his final few months as a Yankee, and maybe even his final few weeks. If the team continues to fall in the standings, they could ship Pineda to a pitching needy contender at the trade deadline. He’s a free agent after the season and he’s not a qualifying offer candidate. Not when the potential return is a pick after the fourth round. Not worth the risk. Pineda started this season pretty well. But with each passing start, it’s becoming more and more clear he’s the same guy he’s always been.

Jordan Montgomery: The Reliable Rookie

I thought it was inevitable we would see Montgomery in the big leagues at some point this season. He came into 2017 as New York’s best big league ready pitching prospect and by a pretty decent margin. I just didn’t think he’d win a rotation spot out of Spring Training. Montgomery outpitched everyone else in camp, the Yankees decided he was their best option, and he’s been a rotation mainstay ever since.

Through 16 big league starts the 24-year-old Montgomery has a 3.65 ERA (4.05 FIP) in 91.1 innings. He’s completed six innings in eight of those 16 starts and at least five innings in 13 of those 16 starts. Joe Girardi has had a quick hook with the rookie at times, which is fine. For the most part Montgomery has been a consistent source of quality innings. Three things stand out about his first half.

1. His lack of ground balls is starting to catch up to him. Montgomery is a big man (6-foot-6) with an extreme over-the-top arm angle, and because of that, he can have a tough time getting his pitches down at the knees and below the strike zone. The result has been a 41.6% ground ball rate, which ranks 50th among those 74 qualified starters. And lately, more and more of those fly balls are turning into home runs:

jordan-montgomery-home-run-rate

Home runs are being hit at a higher rate than at any other point in baseball history and Montgomery’s home ballpark is homer happy Yankee Stadium. Given how fly ball prone he’s been so far this season, it was only a matter of time until the home runs came. Hopefully more grounders will follow.

2. He’s great at getting hitters to chase out of the zone. Montgomery is a polished young pitcher with a five-pitch arsenal. He’s got both a straight four-seamer and a sinker, plus a slider, a changeup, and a curveball. His least used pitch is his slider. He’s thrown it 13.0% of the time this year, which is pretty darn often for a fifth pitch. Because of his deep arsenal, Montgomery has excelled at getting hitters to swing out of the zone. Here is the chase rate leaderboard:

  1. Masahiro Tanaka: 39.8%
  2. Zack Greinke: 38.6%
  3. Jordan Montgomery: 38.3%
  4. Chris Sale: 38.3%
  5. Clayton Kershaw: 37.6%

Max Scherzer (37.2%) is sixth. McCullers (36.9%) is seventh. Corey Kluber (36.8%) is eighth. The top of the chase rate leaderboard is basically the seven best pitchers in baseball and Jordan Montgomery. Getting hitters to expand the zone is a very valuable skill. Swings on pitches out of the strike zone often result in swings and misses or weak contact. You don’t see those pitches squared up very often. That chase rate ability is a big reason why Montgomery has had so much success early in his MLB career.

3. Montgomery is not afraid to pitch inside. Especially to righties, which he needs to do to have success. He’s not going to blow anyone away with the sheer quality of his stuff. Here’s a heat map of his fastball and slider locations against right-handed batters, via Baseball Savant:

jordan-montgomery-heat-mapYep. Montgomery lives on the inner half of the plate with those pitches against righties. He uses them to set up changeups and curveballs away, and he’s been successful doing that. Montgomery has held righties to a .249/.307/.403 (.306 wOBA) batting line. He’s not dominating them by any means, but he is holding his own, and that’s important as a starting pitcher. Pitching inside allows him to have that success.

Montgomery right now looks very much like a long-term keeper. He’s poised and he seems fearless on the mound, even when things are going haywire. Add in the fact he throws five pitches regularly and has pretty good command, and the ingredients are there to stick in the rotation going forward. The Yankees needed to find some starting pitchers this year and they’ve found one in Montgomery.

* * *

Tanaka, Severino, Sabathia, Pineda, and Montgomery have combined to start 82 of 86 games for the Yankees this season. Cessa started three and Green started one while Sabathia was sidelined with his hamstring injury. Otherwise the Yankees have been pretty fortunate injury-wise. That’s not to say the good health will continue all year, but it happened in the first half, and that’s all that matters right now.

Believe it or not, the rotation ranks tenth in ERA (4.26) and eighth in FIP (4.21) among the 30 teams, which surprised me. It still feels like there’s room for improvement, mostly with Tanaka but also with Pineda given his recent performance. The Yankees now have two rotation building blocks in Severino and Montgomery whereas four months ago they had none, and Sabathia sure looks like a new pitcher too. I still expect the Yankees to be in on just about every high-end starter at the trade deadline because hey, there’s no such thing as too much pitching. The current rotation has been good enough to get the Yankees to the All-Star break in postseason position.

Game 85: Stand perfectly still, the bullpen’s vision is based on movement

Still here. (Mike Stobe/Getty)
Still here. (Mike Stobe/Getty)

So. Another tough loss last night. The Yankees have had a bunch of those lately. Too many. Maybe their fortunate is turning. Prior to last night, the Yankees won their previous four series openers yet failed to win the series. Maybe losing last night’s series opener means they’ll win this series? A man can hope.

Today’s mission is simple: avoid the bullpen at all costs. A crisp complete game from Luis Severino would be lovely. I’m not counting on it, but again, a man can hope. Hopefully the offense can give the pitching staff some breathing room. They’re going to need it. Here is the Brewers’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. DH Brett Gardner
  2. RF Aaron Judge
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. 3B Chase Headley
  6. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  7. LF Clint Frazier
  8. 1B Austin Romine
  9. 2B Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Luis Severino

It is cloudy, hot, and humid in New York today, otherwise the weather is perfect. The bullpen is a disaster, the offense struggles to score when Judge doesn’t homer, and the rotation has been hit or miss, otherwise the Yankees are perfect. This afternoon’s game will begin at 1:05pm ET and you can watch on YES and MLB Network. Try to enjoy.

Roster Moves: The Yankees have called up both Ben Heller and Jonathan Holder, the team announced. Luis Cessa and Jordan Montgomery were sent down. Montgomery will be back in ten days and won’t even miss a start thanks to the All-Star break. Also, assuming he comes up the first day he’s eligible, he’ll still be credited with service time during his stint in the minors because it is the minimum ten days.

Yankeemetrics: Bronx (bullpen) is burning [June 20-22]

(Getty)
(Getty)

Please deactivate Clip-bot
The Yankees returned to the friendly confines on Tuesday night but the story was virtually the same as the previous six games: they got themselves into an early hole thanks to some shaky starting pitching, then rallied to tie the score with a couple Baby Bombs, but a bullpen meltdown ultimately sealed their fate, resulting in another loss.

Their losing streak reached seven games, just the third time in the last two decades the Yankees have suffered that many consecutive defeats within a season – the other seven-game losing streaks came in 2000 (ended nicely!) and 2007 (ended pretty good).

What made this loss even more disheartening is that the odds were in the Yankees favor entering Tuesday’s game:

  • They had won nine straight in the Bronx against the Angels, tied for the second-longest win streak vs. any opponent at the new Yankee Stadium, and the second-longest home win streak against the Angels in the history of the rivalry.
  • The Yankees were 24-8 vs. the Angels at the current Yankee Stadium, their best record against an American League team at the ballpark
  • They had the AL’s best home record (22-9), and led the league in runs per game, batting average, home runs per game and pretty much every offensive statistic at home.

But then Tyler Clippard torched whatever good vibes the Yankees had built up, and the Yankees were losers, again. He entered with the game tied in the seventh – faced four batters, allowed three extra-base hits and three runs, got one long flyout — and exited to a chorus of boos.

Clippard was tagged with his fourth loss of the season, and only Masahiro Tanaka had more among Yankee pitchers after Tuesday’s disaster. Even worse, he suffered his 10th meltdown of the season, the most among AL pitchers through Tuesday. And his slugging percentage allowed in high-leverage situations increased to .737, per baseball-reference.com. Yeah, and Aaron Judge is “only” slugging .702 this season.

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Back to business
Our long Bronx nightmare finally came to an end on Wednesday night as the Yankees snapped their seven-game losing streak with a 8-4 win over the Angels.

They avoided what would have been their first eight-game slide since 1995. If you think that’s a long drought … you’d be correct! Every other major-league franchise has suffered at least three losing streaks of eight-or-more games since the start of the 1996 season. And the Yankees have zero.

Jordan Montgomery delivered yet another impressive and gutsy performance (two runs on five hits in 5 2/3 innings), and it was his curveball that really stood out as a legit weapon for him against the Angels.

He threw 32 curves, per Brooksbaseball.net, and the Angels were 0-for-7 with four strikeouts in at-bats that ended with a curveball. Opponents are now hitting .155 against the pitch this season, the ninth-lowest average among starters (min. 200 curves). Montgomery also netted eight curveball whiffs on 14 swings (53.3%), increasing his swing-and-miss rate with the pitch to 42.7 percent, another top-10 mark for him among starters that have thrown at least 200 curves this season. Pretty good for a rookie, eh?

While Montgomery kept the Yankees in the game on the mound, the hero of the night at the plate was Matt Holliday, who broke a 2-2 tie in the fifth inning with a solo shot to right-center. It was a milestone hit for Holliday, too, his 1,200th career RBI.

This lets us reflect on his all-around greatness – his ability to hit for power, drive in runs, get on base – among left-fielders, the position he played for much of 14-year career. He is one of just four players in major-league history that played at least two-thirds of their games in left, and accumulated at least 1,200 RBI, 300 homers, 450 doubles and 700 walks.

The others: Ted Williams, Luis Gonzalez and Barry Bonds.

Holliday wasn’t the only Yankee that entered the record books on Wednesday night – though Tyler Clippard did so in the ugliest way possible. He was inserted in the ninth inning for mop-up duty, and then immediately gave up a booming double to the first batter he faced, and a two-run homer to the next guy, before Joe Girardi mercifully pulled him from the game without getting an out.

Combined with his dreadful outing less than 24 hours earlier (see above), Clippard became the first pitcher in Yankee history to allow at least two earned runs and two extra-base hits in back-to-back appearances of one-third of an inning or fewer.

(AP)
(AP)

No lead is safe
Deja vu was the theme of Thursday night’s brutal loss as the Yankees once again found themselves in an early hole, then quickly rallied to take the lead, only to have the bullpen (and some sloppy defense) set fire to that mid-game optimism, resulting in another disgusting defeat.

It was their sixth loss this season when entering the seventh inning with a lead, matching the same number of losses they had in that situation as all of last year. They also got charged with their 13th blown save of the season, one shy of the Tigers for the most in the majors. At this point last year (game number 70), the Yankees had just four blown saves. And it was the third time this year they lost a game after leading by four or more runs. Yup, you guessed it, that’s the same number of such losses they suffered the entire 2016 season.

The difference on Thursday was that Dellin Betances hopped on the Struggle Bus, coughing up two runs on two hits (single and double). In his first 24 appearances of the season combined, he had surrendered only two runs (one earned) and had yet to give up an extra-base hit.

The night actually started on a high note when Aaron Judge crushed his 25th homer of the season in the second inning to straightaway center and deep into Monument Park, giving the Yankees a 5-1 cushion. It was his MLB-leading 15th longball with an exit velocity of at least 110 mph; last year’s leaders in 110-plus mph home runs (Nelson Cruz, Giancarlo Stanton) had 14 … for the entire season.

Of course, he’s not just obliterating the Statcast leaderboards, he’s making a mockery of the Yankee and major-league record books too.

  • His 25 homers are just four shy of the Yankee rookie record set by Joe DiMaggio in 1936.
  • He’s just the fifth Yankee age 25 or younger to hit 25-or-more homers before the All-Star break (since the game was first played in 1933). The others you might have heard of: Mickey Mantle (1956) and Roger Maris (1960).
  • Judge is the second Yankee right-handed batter to reach 25 home runs before the All-Star break, joining a fella named Alex Rodriguez in 2007

And, finally, Judge is the only MLB rookie outfielder ever to hit at least 25 homers before the All-Star break. #AllRise